Africa's lifetime experience

Portlaoise Students recall the heat, the hard work, the fun and the people from their humanitarian trip to Africa

By Lynda Kiernan

Fifteen students and five teachers at Portlaoise College recently spent a week in Gambia delivering donations to schools and hospitals and painting a school.

Students Shelly, Raphael, Khakan and Christina kept a diary starting when they left Ireland on February 2 for two days of gruelling travel.

“I could feel the heat about 4 hours into the plane journey, over the Sahara Desert. When we landed the heat hit instantly. I could see the extreme wealth and poverty, mainly poverty. I noticed stray dogs and cows all over the roads. At our hotel, the Palma Rima, we were greeted warmly by the Keba. We all got changed into our swimming togs and jumped in. The cold water took away our tiredness. Later we went for dinner at the beach behind the hotel. We were stormed by friendly people greeting us,” wrote Khakan.

The group set off early the next day by jeep taxi to visit the local primary school.

“The school was so nice, the kids were so cute and adorable. They presented songs they learned. We showed them a few of our moves, but they were still better than us. We went to the medical clinic and gave them supplies. We then went to the home of our guide Frumus, meeting his nice family and enjoying juicy oranges he grows. Then we headed to the hospital which was pretty run down looking. We got a tour and gave them many supplies. They were so pleased,” said Shelly.

On February 5 the group left early for Banjul port.

“Banjul city is well developed. The port was overcrowded and filled with beggars. On the ferry the seats were out in the open, there was beggars and people selling goods. We got a bus to a secondary school. The welcome was wonderful. We gave them basketball hoops and a volleyball net and had a volleyball match, Ireland vs The Gambia. I was on The Gambian side. It was great because our team won,” said Raphael.

The next day they drove for an hour to a secondary school to deliver educational equipment.

“The principal was delighted. We donated two orange trees to plant also. After that we attended a sports day, put on for us. We were treated like VIP guests. Their enthusiasm for each sport was amazing. Some of our students took part in the sports as well, like the high jump, long jump, lime and spoon, relay races and musical chairs. It was so much fun,” said Christina.

The next day was a long one, with the students renovating the primary school.

“We had to get up early enough in order to buy paint and supplies. We left the hotel at 8 o’ clock and met our guide Frumus at the paint shop. After picking out nice bright colours we headed straight to the primary school ready to work. We split up into different groups, led by each teacher Ms Spencer, Mr McClearn,, Mr Daly, Mr Walsh and Ms Cripps. We totally brightened up the school with fresh paint and we painted hopscotch’s and mazes for the children to play. We painted one wall the Irish Flag colours and also repainted the toilets. We all really worked hard together to get the job done. It was a really long day but it was all worth it in the end, being able to stand back and see our work. We knew the children would love it. We were proud that we had really made a difference for them,” said Khakan.

The next day, Monday February 8, was full of sport.

“We all got in our open top jeeps and headed to the primary school where we organised our little sports day. My group was doing the three legged race. The kids all enjoyed themselves, we had so much fun. We had long jump, three legged race, basketball shooting, relay and sack race. We had to divide 150 kids into groups and the others kids were cheering for them,” said Shelly.

The last few hours were full of informal fun.

“A local teacher Bernard played a game for us. We also played musical chairs which got really competitive. The kids were singing to us they all wanted to be picked up by one of us and they didn’t want to let go. When everyone returned into their class rooms we give them a small bag of sweets,” she said.

There were tears on departure of the school.

“It was really emotional, most of us were crying, we did not want to say goodbye. We all got into our jeeps and the kids were running after us saying goodbye. It was a very happy and sad moment at the same time,” Raphael said.

They rounded off the day buying souvenirs at a craft market.

For their last day on February 9 they enjoyed a day at a crocodile park.

“The roads were not roads they were red sand. We went into a museum of African instruments and masks. We then started our tour, we say a pool which was green and the crocodiles were everywhere. We were allowed to touch them and take pictures with them it was so much fun. When everyone took pictures with them we headed to another side of the park where we seen a mammy crocodile and her babies, she was not happy about it I would say,” recalled Christina.